There are good foods, and there are bad foods, although not in the context we're usually told. So yes, some foods that boost health can also be bad for you. Take red wine, for example. It's good for the heart; it contains tumour-reducing chemicals; it's good for the stomach. However, combining it with driving is inadvisable, and one can become addicted to it. The key is moderation. Alcohol contains 4cal/g and is of little nutritive value for its calorie count; therefore, it counts in the 20% 'because I need comfort food' allowance. [sigh - Squeamish team]
I suggest using a spreadsheet for this step (I use Open Office Calc out of habit, but MS Excel or similar equivalent is fine), because it's easier to calculate than doing it with pen, paper, and calculator.
1. Make a column entitled “Food” and next to it one called “Quantity”
2. Enter everything you ate sequentially going down the page
3. Put the amount of each item you had in the “quantity” column
4. Next to these two columns, make three more, entitled respectively carbohydrate (total carb, not just the “sugars” value), protein, and fat (total fat, not only saturated)
5. Most food labels have nutritional information per 100g on them; record the values of fat, carbohydrate, and protein in the correct column. If you can't find information on the label, seek help from your library's copy of McArdle, Kitch & Kitch, or nutritionaldata.com
6. Insert a column to the right of carbohydrate. Repeat for protein and fat
7. Enter “=((quantity you ate in grams)/100g)*(grams of carbohydrate per 100g serving)” in the empty column next to carbs. Repeat for protein and fat, substituting the respective values for each component. This is how many grams of carbs, protein, and fat you actually consumed
8. Repeat step 6
9. Multiply the grams of carbohydrate and protein you consumed by 4 to get calories
10. Multiply the grams of fat you consumed by 9 to get calories
11. Total each day's column and add up your total calories
12. Divide the total carbohydrate, protein, and fat calories by overall total calories and multiply by 100 to get the percentage of each nutrient
13. If you're feeling adventurous, you can find lists of the Glycemic Index values and use a weighted average (in Excel or by hand to calculate the GI of each meal.
What you're aiming for:
50% of your energy from carbohydrates, most of which should be fruit or vegetables
30% of your energy from fat (by weight, that'll be around 15%, because of the caloric difference between fats and other substrates)
20% of energy intake from protein
While we're doing your facts and figures, please calculate your BMI. Note that the BMI scale doesn't take body composition into account; it sees mass as fatness, and doesn't account for muscle mass. The best way to work out if you need to shed blubber is by doing body density testing (gold standard: hydrostatic weighing suitable alternative for those who have no desire to wear a swim suit in front of scientists: skin fold caliper test).
don't let the electronic age steal your “tribe” from you...
Is there a particular kind of food you favour when you're feeling stressed, unhappy, or tired? For example, I unthinkingly guzzle carbohydrates when I'm stressed. Do you eat more when you're happy or when you're unhappy? If you eat significantly more or less when you're feeling a strong emotion than at other times, it's possible you're eating – or not eating – for emotional reasons.
Are you drinking enough water (2L or 4 pints per day, plus 100ml for every ten minutes of exercise and every 100ml of caffeinated or sugary beverages)? Your kidneys need that much water to flush out the toxins from your body. If you drink the recommended amount of water and are not urinating enough (about twice each morning, and twice each afternoon) or you're going too often, this could be a sign of a problem.
While we're on lavatorial matters, I'd like to say a quick word about pooping. It should happen at least once per day, but anywhere up to once for every meal is considered normal. If you're not going that often, what you eat is probably gathering in your colon and putrefying. Without getting too icky with details, poop rotting in your body isn't something you want. Fibre – usually from leafy greens, but the labels on your food should tell you the fibre content – is the best way to rectify the situation. If you have blood in your poop (if the water in the toilet bowl turns red and you haven't eaten beetroot), see a doctor. As awkward as it is to talk about sh*t with a doctor, you could be saving yourself from bowel cancer or a colostomy.
Are there any foods that leave you feeling tired 2-3 hours after eating? Does portion size affect how tired/sleepy you feel afterwards?
Step 3: Make a strategy
I appreciate that not everybody can go to the farmer's market every morning, pick up organic produce, prepare it into tasty meals, and still have a life outside of food. In fact, the only people I know who do have time work in the kitchens of organic restaurants. So what's the best way to have it all? Quite simply: by accepting that you can't have it all, and that sometimes you get by with a little help from your friends.
1. Please calculate your approximate calorific target. If you want to lose weight sustainably, reduce it by no more than 15% and exercise the rest off; you're more likely to keep it off than if you crash-diet.
2. Always eat breakfast soon after waking, and eat at least three hours before bed. It sounds bizarre and superstitious, but if you don't feed your body first thing in the morning, it goes into starvation mode and stores up what you eat for the rest of the day. Likewise, if you consume too few calories during the day, your body stores every scrap for tomorrow. Conversely, if you don't give your food enough time to digest at night, when your tummy goes into its sleep mode it stores up the left-over goodness for tomorrow.
3. Aim for low GI foods. That is, foods that take a long time for your body to turn into blood sugar. These are the kind that give you sustained energy release. Food with a fast energy up-take makes your body produce a lot of insulin to normalise your blood glucose levels, so your meal goes straight into storage as glycogen in your liver and muscles. The slower the glucose is released into the blood, the slower the body's reaction to it, so you have time to do things before feeling hungry again. Thus, have your medium to high GI foods in the evening (remembering that sucrose and alcohol affect sleep; go forth and rock the Three Hour Rule).
4. There are a number of really yummy things that are simple to prepare and are actually good for you. Take inspiration from the following list
- Twelve slides of antioxidant, healthy-heart foods with recipes attached.
- Low GI recipes from the diet book's site. There are many more online if you feel like you need help being varied.
- A list of the most antioxidant-rich foods, with a bit of explanation.
- To tide you through cold-and-flu season, a list of twenty-one immune-boosting foods.
- For the smokers and those who live down-wind of a common flight-path (which is most of us), here's a page of recipes that contain foods with demonstrated tumour-reducing properties.
- How to take care of old bananas in a yummalicious way. You can get a similar effect by freezing fresh ones and then blow-torching the outside.
5. Remember that things like stews are wholesome, tasty, and easy to pack into the freezer for evenings when you don't feel like cooking. Alternatively, a slow-cooker (or a pot and two pillows filled with polystyrene balls to keep the heat in and slowly cook your stew) lets you do the hard work in the morning, and enjoy a hot meal after work. Also, if you get proficient playing with spices, you have an almost infinite range of curries to make.
6. Eat as much raw fruit and veg as possible. What you don't enjoy raw, blanche or steam. Third prize goes to baking, boiling or braising (boiling in something other than water, usually wine). If you need to fry something, shallow fry. Keep the colours, textures and flavours of your food varied, making it appeal to all the senses. If all else fails, add fresh ginger, lime juice, honey, sesame seeds, and soy sauce; you can call it Asian-inspired.
7. Shop and eat with other people as often as possible. Learn what works for them, and teach them what works for you. By the way, when I say 'eat with other people,' I mean look them in the eye and have conversations over your meal, not watch TV as a group. According to Maslow, friendship is a fairly basic need, and numerous studies show that children who eat with their families perform better in school. As a species we have a long tradition of socialising over food – we eat slower, enjoy food more, and feel more relaxed after talking out what ails us; don't let the electronic age steal your “tribe” from you.
Remember, if you have any nagging health complaints – especially if you're struggling to sleep well – see your doctor. If the number of calories you consume each day is drastically above or below the recommended allowance and you're struggling to change, seeing a professional to find underlying causes can be helpful. The same is true of depression and/or mental illness; there is no shame in seeking help (if anything, it shows maturity and strength).
Relax about food. Just like you save for retirement (at least, I hope you do if you're able to, given how pension plans are going these days), eating well and exercising is saving you a world of misery when you get older. If you focus on health rather than thinness, it's a whole lot easier to let yourself make mistakes and accept that tomorrow is a new opportunity to live well.
Feed your mind. We have fantastic brains, and a lack of stimulation can age it. There's an old adage about the day you stop learning being the day you get old; Alzheimer's research has been demonstrating that for years.
Relax about life. A large part of why we eat emotionally is because we haven't let our old baggage go. I appreciate it's not easy, but your wrinkles are going to show what facial expressions you made most often. I don't know about you, but I'd rather have eye wrinkles from laughing often than a mouth like a cat's backside from making disapproving faces.
Bridget Schuil - Lover of science, plants, tea, wine, peaceful pursuits and fast cars. You can follow Bridget on Twitter and read her blog here. You can learn how to Live Long and Prosper through sleep here and detox here